Cardinal Cahal Daly was laid to rest on a day of great ecclesiastical ceremony, but also of rural simplicity.
This country boy who had risen to become a prince of the Catholic Church was buried outside St Patrick’s Cathedral in rural Co Armagh where for six years he had shown leadership, vision and humility as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland.
It was a cold day for a funeral with the grandeur of the cathedral and its grounds edged in ice, and as the poet TS Eliot noted about the Journey of the Magi: “A cold coming we had of it, just at the worst time of the year.”
Inside the vast and beautiful 19th century church there was an atmosphere of warmth and reverence, and representatives of the three other main denominations were in attendance.
The large congregation also included the politically great, and also the good people of Armagh and all other parts of this island.
Behind the altar sat the whole panoply of Irish bishops, resplendent in their regalia, but even more visually striking were Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Edinburgh and the Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster Dr Cormac Murphy O’Connor in their choral dress of bright scarlet robes.
The Primate Sean Brady, who lost a friend and mentor in the passing of Cardinal Daly, delivered a well-crafted tribute in which he emphasised that his predecessor had been “first and foremost a man of faith, a man of prayer, a man of God”. Cardinal Brady also urged the politicians to continue showing courage and co-operation in building “a reconciled, stable and sustainable future” which would be the best possible monument they could build to Cahal Daly’s memory.
Significantly, Cardinal Brady refused to duck the major issue of clerical child sex abuse. He said the Catholic Church was at “a defining moment in its history” and that the rebuilding of trust would entail making sure that children were safe “in every Church setting”.
After the lengthy communion, during which a few Protestants came to the front to pay their respects but not to participate, the funeral service came to an end with its elaborate liturgy, magnificent music and a blessing by The Three Priests, now of national singing fame.
Outside the cathedral the cortege wound its way through the ice and snow and the strong winter sunshine etched its glow on the colourful vestments of Catholic and Protestant clergy alike as a large crowd looked on.
The graveside ceremony was brief as Cardinal Daly was buried beside three of his predecessors. Slowly the crowd, including President McAleese, melted away, and the historic funeral was over.
The country boy who had become an ecclesiastical statesman had indeed been given a send-off fit for a prince.